For July the #EattheWorld group is focusing on French Polynesia. It has been several months since I participated in the Eat the World project, being spearheaded by Evelyne of CulturEatz. Here's her challenge. This isn't my post - which will go live on July 10th - but it's a bonus and a dive into the delicious, exotic pod of the vanilla orchid.
Years ago I was sent a copy of Pure Vanilla by Shauna Sever from the publisher. After that, I underestimated the magic of vanilla. We use the term 'vanilla' derogatorily, to mean plain, boring, ordinary. How completely misguided! After scraping the caviar out of the beans, infusing syrups, steeping pods, and immersing vanilla in salts and sugars, I embraced vanilla for the complex, exotic, and intriguing ingredient that it is.
In the book, Sever encapsulates an almost 400-year history of the vanilla bean into nine points, taking the reader from the Aztecs conquering the Totonac Indians of Mexico in 1519 to Thomas Jefferson, then the U.S. ambassador to France, carrying a bundle of beans home to Monticello in 1789. In 1841 the 12-year-old son of a slave devised a way of hand-pollinating vanilla orchids; his process is still employed today.
You have probably encountered quite a few types of vanilla: plain old vanilla plus Tahitian, Mexican, and Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla. I thought that 'bourbon vanilla' referred to the alcohol used when making extract; I use vodka when making homemade vanilla extract. But that was incorrect. Most of the world's vanilla is from the Vanilla planifolia orchid that grows in Madagascar, Réunion, and other tropical areas along the Indian Ocean. The bean's common name is Bourbon vanilla - after the former name of Réunion: Île Bourbon.
Tahitian vanilla is Vanilla tahitensis is classified as a separate species, as it is considerably different from planifolia in both look and taste. Tahitian vanilla beans are generally shorter, plumper, and have a higher moisture content than planifolia beans. They have a thinner and duller skin with fewer seeds than planifolia.
Tahitian Vanilla Cream Soda
Cream soda is really just vanilla soda. Regionally, there is a 'red cream' soda that is vanilla and strawberry or vanilla and raspberry. But I decided to stick with regular cream soda made with Tahitian vanilla. Actually I made vanilla simple syrup with both the Tahitian vanilla and the Madagascar vanilla just to do a side by side taste test. Hands down - the Tahitian vanilla was what my family all preferred for their cream soda.
1 cup organic granulated sugar
1-1/2 cup water
pinch of sea salt
3 Tablespoons pure Tahitian vanilla extract
ice for serving
Place sugar, water, and salt in a medium sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and swirl until the sugar is completely dissolved. Continue to simmer for another 5 minutes. Pour in the vanilla extract and let cool.
Place ice cubes in serving glasses. Pour in syrup and top with sparkling water. You can adjust to taste, but we landed on a 1:4 ratios. So, 1 ounce syrup to 4 ounces of water.
Stay tuned for my French Polynesian post on July 10th.